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BSEACD annexation bill falls short in Legislature

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Plans for the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) to annex a portion of Western Travis County in the state-designated Priority Groundwater Management Area are officially dead. Nearly two years in the making, the BSEACD needed legislative approval to hold an election amongst the affected residents. Although the legislative logjam over voter ID created a hurdle for the district’s efforts, an amendment allowing for the annexation election was tacked on to two different bills. Those amendments were stripped from both bills in conference committee this week.


As late as last Thursday, district board members had expressed confidence that the annexation, presumed to be free of controversy, would move forward. However, on Tuesday when Deece Eckstein, coordinator of intergovernmental relations, briefed Travis County Commissioners on their legislative concerns, he informed the court that the annexation amendments had been stripped because of “explicit gubernatorial veto threats.” 


Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, in an extended message to constituents echoed the claims that Governor Perry’s office was to blame. “Calls from special interests to the Governor defeated the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer groundwater annexation bill,” she said. “That is a critical bill to us. It will now cost us much more money to put in a ground water district, which has been mandated by the TCEQ.” She was referring to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which now will have the task of creating a new district from the area that the BSEACD sought to annex.


General Manager Kirk Holland said when bill authors hear that a bill’s fate may be imperiled by an amendment they are likely to jettison the controversial amendment. BSEACD Secretary Craig Smith told In Fact Daily given the history of TCEQ it was likely Western Travis County would remain without groundwater protection for some time. “It remains to be seen if TCEQ will do anything at all,” he said, adding, “I’ll just say they never have created a district.”


Holland explained his understanding of the annexation’s opposition. “It’s coming out of the governor’s office that the governor’s office is being talked to by certain individual parties, not that the governor’s office per se was against it but they were listening to some of the opponents…”


Perry’s spokesperson Katherine Cesinger said, “I’m not aware of those specific conversations, but I would say it is a common practice for the Governor’s Office to work with lawmakers during the process on all legislation to make sure they know where the Governor stands on certain issues coming through the legislature.” When pressed as to why the Governor would have an issue with the annexation she said “I can try and track this down, but it’s kind of difficult to go off of someone from the Travis County Commissioner’s office,” and compared such allegations to hearsay.


Holland said, “We don’t really know for sure who is opposing this bill. That’s one of the disappointing things that you’re never really aware who your opposition is. It’s a game that certain lobbyists and people play and it’s not really in the public interest.”


Holland said the situation boiled down to “a relatively few number of people basically prevented tens of thousands of people who wanted that groundwater protection. A whole set of people were disenfranchised by the actions of just one or two or three folks.”


Smith refused to throw in the towel. “I think we have to try again,” he said. Aside from going the legislative route again he opined, “We might try to proceed to annex the area in response to landowner petitions, I think we have the authority to do that under the existing water code and we might try to do that. But obviously, that’s very preliminary. We haven’t considered what the options are now but the need certainly hasn’t gone away.”

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